Proudly Ineffective Human Capital

1aMaoYou might be excused if you assumed the phrase “Ineffective human capital Investments” is a relic of a central planning communist Stalinesk era.  After all, we would never assume to treat teachers, let alone students, as widgets mass produced on a national scale would we?

Yet, that is exactly not only the tone, but the message being sent by the latest National Governors Association guide to building a robotic, ahem human, workforce.  Their latest report (you just can’t make this stuff up) is titled “A Governor’s Guide to Human Capital Development.”

Yes teachers and parents; we are not instructing creative individuals to become well rounded global citizens.  On the contrary, we are building “human capital” and thus the job of a teacher, and consequently the instruction, must be collectivized to the extent that every widget, ahem, student can contribute to whatever the central planning authority (or the National Governors Association – NGA) dictates is appropriate.

While the report sadly doesn’t come with a companion Maoist Little Red Book, it includes delightful brainwashing language for our teachers and students.

My favorite little tidbit out of the report is below:

 For governors to build a stronger education workforce and to capitalize on investments made in the workforce,states must be able to decipher what inputs—the investments made in teachers and principals—produce the strongest outputs—namely, improvements in student achievement (4).

If the report chose not to communicate in a 1984 Orwellian dialogue, it would simply say this: Governor’s should rely on Standardized Test Data in order to produce widgets, ahem, students that can take the jobs of whatever the central planning committee, ahem, the government is promoting.  In addition, this data should be used to determine which robots, ahem, teachers instruct our students along with the curriculum they teach.

Of course, such a report couldn’t be complete without a high-five to Teach For America as being an appropriate model to facilitate the indoctrination, and attempts to sweep under the rug the fact that even their own studies indicate that Teach For America is a worthless endeavor that is toted as improving student achievement.

TFA has commissioned several studies of corps members to evaluate the impact of their service on student achievement. Although the studies overall have indicated that the impact is modest, some of the findings are important because they point to statistically significant differences in the achievement of students taught by TFA corps members.  In one study, TFA teachers outperformed certified and veteran mathematics teachers in their ability to improve student achievement (8).

Translation:  Bring in Teach for America, graduates with no experience teaching let alone the content they are asked to teach, and (shocker) they are very good teaching a robotic, ahem, prescripted curriculum meant to raise test scores!

Never mind that creativity stuff.  Nobody cares.  Teachers aren’t meant to create artists or independently thinking individuals.  No, we are creating human capital!  Thus, a one-size-fits all approach is not only recommended, it is required in order to fulfill the vision of utopian human capital!

The fact that the report is so tone deaf as to refer to students and teachers as “human capital” is besides the point.  What this type of language reveals is the intent of standardized testing; namely, to create a system in which there is accountability by states across the nation to “produce” students with a skill-set that has been deemed “appropriate” by an external group of influential decision makers.

The standardized test (for Idaho, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC) is the teeth in such a policy.  The purpose of the assessment is to assure that every district across the nation engages in teaching a curriculum meant to benefit entrenched corporate and government interests, not the individual student or community.

Let me be clear.  I have no quarrel with the idea that skills and knowledge should be transferred to students that will allow them to be successful in a variety of settings after graduation, including employment.

However, NGA’s goal seems to detach itself from what I consider most parents’ and students’ interests.  Martin Luther King Jr, I believe, said it best:

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

By focusing on standardized test scores as data assessing the “effectiveness” of teaching, we completely disregard MLK’s intention.  Can a student think intensively about a topic?  Can a student support this thinking by critical analysis from a variety of sources?  How can a standardized test possibly claim to report with any validity what a teacher observes in students practicing these skills on a daily basis?

Lastly, such a standardized approach strips character out of education; however, perhaps that is the intent.  It matters not if a student is global citizen of integrity.  Instead, it only matters that a graduate can perform an assigned function.  In fact, it is even better if a student not question what the assigned function is!

Yes, this of Orwellian conspiracy.  However, when a report is written with such distanced language to humanity, let alone learning, it invites such criticism.

So let me go on the record.  According to this report I am bad human capital.

You see, I want to inspire my students.  I believe that every one of them can be successful in their individual pursuits.  Sometimes, certainly, this is within the corporate structure of wages, salaries, etc.

However, I am just as eager to motivate the artists: the painters, the poets, the musicians, the sculptors.  I encourage my students to think critically of the country and world they live in, and to use credible evidence researched to support their claims.

While I want students to be able to perform as well as they can in any assessment situation, including a standardized format, I am well aware that such a single snapshot is not reflective of a student as a whole.  Yet, the National Governor’s Association wants to use this single snapshot to drive education policy.

Using a single snapshot of information is synonymous to assuming since it is raining today, it must rain tomorrow.  In the absence of other measures or input, there is no logic to suggest otherwise.

The fallacy of using standardized data leads to poor planning of education policy; however, more importantly, it leads to treating students as “human capital” instead of incredible individuals ready to be challenged and immersed critical thinking and motivated by personal inquiry and personal fulfillment of understanding new topics.

Sorry National Governors Association.  I am content to be bad human capital.  I will continue promoting an individualized approach to education that recognizes I am not a robot and my students are not widgets.


1 thought on “Proudly Ineffective Human Capital

  1. jcgrim

    I read the IES report on TFA compared to veterans and TFA had no impact. If I recall, the one area they trumpted was .6 standard deviation difference from experienced math teachers. Some effect – like none.



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